The 2022 WNBA regular season has come to an end, and after all sorts of drama on the final day, the playoffs are set., with postseason action set to tip-off on Wednesday night with two first-round Game 1s featuring the Chicago Sky versus the New York Liberty and the Las Vegas Aces against the Phoenix Mercury.
But before we turn our full attention to the playoffs, it's worth honoring the best of the best from the regular season. It is once again time to make selections for every major award. This was perhaps the toughest awards ballot to fill out in recent memory, particularly because the races for MVP and Defensive Player of the Year were so narrow.
Without further ado, let's get to the picks.
MVP: A'ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
This has been a two-player race between Wilson and Breanna Stewart pretty much the entire way, and the voting figures to be narrow – each of them has a compelling case, and anyone telling you it isn't close in either direction is lying. Stewart won her first scoring title, is the more efficient and versatile player and a better playmaker. Wilson is a more dominant interior force on both sides of the ball, led the league in double-doubles and was the best player on the best team in the league.
You could sit here for days debating the race and digging down to the smallest details, but eventually you have to make a decision. With that, the 2022 WNBA MVP should be A'ja Wilson.
Simply put, this was Wilson's season. She moved to the five after Liz Cambage's departure and excelled in new head coach Becky Hammon's modernized system, where she expanded her game on both sides of the ball. Though she has been the MVP before in 2020, this was the best she has ever looked.
She averaged 19.5 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, while shooting 50.1 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from 3-point land. All of those numbers, save for points, were career highs, and she finished fifth in the league in scoring, second in rebounding and first in blocks. No other player was in the top-five in all three categories. She also became the first player in WNBA history to put up 700 points, 300 rebounds and 70 blocks in a season.
Everything for the Aces started with Wilson, and under her leadership the team won a franchise-record 26 games and secured the No. 1 overall seed and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Team success isn't the deciding factor, but it is a major one, and Wilson led the Aces to three wins over the top-four opponents in the final week of the season to earn first place.
Again, this was not an easy choice, and you could write just as many paragraphs about everything Stewart accomplished this season. But when you combine personal and team success, Wilson wins out by the narrowest of margins.
Rookie of the Year: Rhyne Howard, Atlanta Dream
NaLyssa Smith and Shakira Austin have had their moments, but Howard is the clear winner here. She finished 11th in the league in scoring at 16.2 points per game, and added 4.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals. Among rookies she was first in scoring, sixth in rebounding, first in assists and first in steals. Few rookies in league history have made as much of an immediate impact on both ends of the floor as Howard. Here's a full list of the other rookies to average at least 16 points, four rebounds, two assists and two stocks (steals plus blocks): A'ja Wilson, Breanna Stewart, Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings, Chamique Holdsclaw and Ruthie Bolton. Every single one of those players either has been or will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and five of the seven have won MVPs.
Defensive Player of the Year: A'ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
Wilson's move to the five this season has primarily been talked about in terms of offense, but she also made tremendous strides on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, she was often the only one holding the Aces' inconsistent defense together: their defensive rating with her on the floor was 98.5, and when she sat it was 107.3. The basic and advanced stats are obvious: Wilson was second in the league in defensive rebounding at 7.6 per game, led the league in blocks at 1.9, finished 11th in steals at 1.4 and third in defensive win shares at 2.4. But, of course, defense is about more than numbers. It's about effort, intelligence, anticipation, versatility. Wilson checks all of those boxes. Other players do as well, and this certainly wasn't an easy decision. Ultimately, Wilson's ability to protect the rim at an elite level for 30 minutes a night – arguably the most important defensive attribute – gives her the slight nod.
Most Improved Player: Jackie Young, Las Vegas Aces
Jackie Young has been a solid player for a while now, but this season she turned into an All-Star. Some of that was a boost in freedom she got from new head coach Becky Hammon, but Young also put in plenty of hard work to improve her game. The effort paid off, as Young registered career highs in everything but assists, averaging 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.4 steals. Perhaps most notably, she turned into a high-level 3-point shooter. In the first three seasons of her career combined she took 77 triples and made 28.5 percent of them. This season she went 50 of 116 from deep, good for 43.1 percent, the third-best mark in the league.
Sixth Player Of the Year: Brionna Jones, Connecticut Sun
There's no debate here. Upon Alyssa Thomas' return, Jones moved back to the bench and operated as a super-sub for the Sun. Despite playing fewer minutes, Jones' numbers remained essentially the same as last season when she won Most Improved Player; she put up 13.8 points and 5.1 rebounds, while shooting 56.9 percent from the field. Among players with at least 100 possessions, she was the third-most efficient, scoring 1.11 points per possession, per Synergy Sports. A free agent at the end of this season, Jones should be in line for a big payday.
Coach of the Year: Tanisha Wright, Atlanta Dream
Coach of the Year is one of the most subjective awards; do you honor a coach who guided one of the best teams, or one who helped improve a lower-tier team? This season, the award should go to someone from the latter category: Tanisha Wright. The Dream were a disaster on and off the court last season, and hiring Wright was one of their first moves as they plotted a complete rebuild. It turned out to be a brilliant decision, as Wright led the Dream to within a game of their first playoff appearance since 2018 despite preseason predictions that they would be one of the worst teams in the league.
Note: All-WNBA teams are now position-less, so players will be listed alphabetically
- Sabrina Ionescu, New York Liberty
- Kelsey Plum, Las Vegas Aces
- Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
- Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun
- A'ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
- Skylar Diggins-Smith, Phoenix Mercury
- Jonquel Jones, Connecticut Sun
- Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
- Candace Parker, Chicago Sky
- Courtney Vandersloot, Chicago Sky
Note: All-Defensive Teams remain position-based, so players will be listed by position
- Guard: Ariel Atkins, Washington Mystics
- Guard: Natasha Cloud, Washington Mystics
- Forward: Alyssa Thomas, Connecticut Sun
- Forward: Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm
- Center: A'ja Wilson, Las Vegas Aces
- Guard: Rebekah Gardner, Chicago Sky
- Guard: Brittney Sykes, Los Angeles Sparks
- Forward: Gabby Williams, Seattle Storm
- Forward: Candace Parker, Chicago Sky
- Center: Ezi Magbegor, Seattle Storm
Note: The All-Rookie team remains position-less, so players will be listed alphabetically
- Shakira Austin, Washington Mystics
- Queen Egbo, Indiana Fever
- Rebekah Gardner, Chicago Sky
- Rhyne Howard, Atlanta Dream
- NaLyssa Smith, Indiana Fever